It was a cool, wintry night in the woods of North Carolina, just outside of the town limits of my hometown, Chapel Hill. We were sitting on the porch of my home which was a log cabin situated on 20 acres of land. The crisp air blew softly through the trees surrounding the front porch as we all sat with blankets and coats, on hand-crafted rustic and wooden chairs around a similar end table, playing cards. A lamp was drug from inside to help light our area. You could smell the dry, crisp air and the dead leaves being manipulated through the wind. Occasionally we’d bring our hands to our face, cupped over our mouths, and let out a long sigh into them… in order to warm them, and the warm air would present itself as steam coming through the cracks in our fingers. There was a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label on the table that we enjoyed as we talked shit over playing Spades, told tall stories, heckled each other, and enjoyed this late night moment of a night-cap.
Jon Koon, Bryan Taylor, and myself were on pre-deployment leave in February of 2006. Jon and Bryan had decided to join me for a couple of days in my hometown before we shipped off on our imminent deployment in a few weeks. This was our last night on leave after several days of sneaking a 20 year old Bryan Taylor into bars and keeping Jon Koon generally out of jail. My father was going through a whole plethora of emotions as he is an old Vietnam Corpsman with the Marines, and knew well what we were experiencing. The task in front of us seemed daunting and impossible. The whole world was watching, and the United States was depending on us to pull through this mission. Quite the odds set against a group of 20-somethings. As we expressed our concerns at times, my father reminded us that we were the best trained in the world, and to just take it a day at a time… and what will be, is what will be.
The night passed and with the sunrise we headed back to Camp Lejeune. Bryan was shipping out a few weeks ahead of me to Al Qaim, which is a town on the Syrian border representing the gateway for militants into Iraq. Certainly a dangerous post. We knew our units would be within convoy of each other, and that we may occasionally link up for joint missions. As Bryan grabbed his things to report to his bus to ship off he walked up to me to say goodbye. He was eager, we both were, to get there and join the fight. To do our job, and make the Marine Corps proud in representing over 200 plus years of combat history alongside our brotherhood. I said, “I’ll catch you on the flip-side, brother.” That was the last thing I ever got to say to him. Bryan was killed in action on April 6th, 2006.
When athletes approach “max’s,” often I see a struggle that happens… besides the fact that it is the heaviest you have ever tried the lift, whatever it may be. Some programs have you testing max’s constantly… maybe even weekly. This is fairly common in CrossFit as well because there is just so many things to try and max out on… and some workouts that have you attempting upwards of 3 max’s in a row. Often people are disappointed if they can’t hit a PR, which is natural… but it needs to be viewed differently. I have fallen into this trap before too.
Many, many things go into a true PR: Diet that day/week/month, training intensity and volume, mental stress, sleep habits, program effectiveness, deloading/rest, hydration, and confidence… to name a few. However, when someone sees, “max” on the program for that day they assume that they have to set a new PR, or else they aren’t doing something correctly. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A coach once told me, “….for this day….” I was talking to him about how the program said build to a max lift… and I said that I was extremely tired, that I didn’t believe I could hit my max today. He said, “Build to a max for this day. Not a true PR, just the best that you can do today.” That struck a chord for me, and it made a lot of sense. I was used to assuming a max meant a PR, and would get upset if I felt fatigued. I would wonder why I felt so tired if it was a max effort day… was I doing something wrong? Am I weak? Am I wasting my time? No. In reality, you can’t PR every time you max. To put it into perspective, if I PR’d every time I max’d, even by a pound… what would I be lifting now? The numbers would be astronomical. Klokov wouldn’t have shit on me.
What I am saying is to understand that you’re only human, and that PR’s are different from max’s. Some days your lifts will be stronger than others, and a good coach, or an informed athlete that does his own programming, or knows programming, will understand the time for true PR’s. Know the difference, and remember, don’t try and kill yourself every time, you’re only human. Do the best that you can do… for that day.
After that deployment… I started seeing some peculiar things. One day I was walking down my barracks catwalk and looked up from being deep in thought. I saw what appeared to be the back of Bryan Taylor, walking in front of me, and he glanced back quickly just before taking a left into a hallway. I sprinted down to the hallway and when I looked in… he was gone… or whoever/whatever it was. No one to be seen or heard anywhere in that hallway. Later, after my stint in the war… I’d see him again, in other places I was in… just flashes of him, always just a glimpse and then gone. I haven’t really told that to anybody, because they’d just think I’m crazy.
At first I was tortured after the war. It took a very serious toll on me after several deployments. I was raised in it, from boy to man, and from pupil to leader. I went through every possible emotion in as intense a way as is possible, while growing in unfathomable ways. When I finally left the Marines Corps, not out of spite… but some small light inside of me, still alive, telling me to pursue some rest and happiness… a friend said to me when we were hiking in the Appalachians, “Ben, this is the first time I have seen you smile in years.”
I was “maxing” everyday, for years. Putting everything I had into it and then dealing with the repercussions later. Just burying it on top of itself, throwing dirt on it, then adding another layer, until it had all become too much. It was like being a speeding locomotive, and then slamming on the breaks… and all of the train cars pile up into the back of one another. All the while wondering why I couldn’t find my buddy again… where was Bryan to talk to? I took the weight of the world and was trying to hold it all up and not show any fatigue or willing to rest. Instead, I should have been living one day at a time, and accepting that I am a human that went through an extreme, and at times, human less, event. I had to learn to live for that day. I have never drank Johnny Walker Black Label since that night.